Gini Von Courter On UUA and White Supremacy

Gini Von Courter posted the open letter below on Facebook on Wed Mar 29. On Thu Mar 30, UUA President Peter Morales resigned with 3 months left in his term.
Here are the background documents Gini references:
Dear Unitarian Universalist leader,

If you’re thinking “I’m a Unitarian Universalist, but I’m not sure I am a leader”, please read on because this time requires leaders and you can be one if you choose.

If you do not know me, I served our congregations as Moderator for a decade ending with General Assembly (GA) in June 2013. With one notable exception, I haven’t had much to say publicly about the UUA or Unitarian Universalism since that summer. Our system exacts a high price, sometimes a personal price, from those who are tasked with holding other leaders accountable. I write today because my continued silence would be a disservice. For eighteen years -- 10 as Moderator and another 8 as a UUA trustee including service as chair of the UUA Finance Committee -- I had an insider view of the UUA. I served with three different UUA Presidents, a whole lot of committee and board members, and countless members of the UUA staff. I recommended, voted on, and was tasked with monitoring the proper expenditure of roughly approximately a half a billion dollars on behalf of our white supremacist, Unitarian Universalist faith.

Like so many other UUs who have posted on social media, I was dismayed by President Morales’ letter to staff about the hiring of yet another white male regional lead. I was dismayed, but I was not surprised. During his two terms as President, Morales has eliminated many programs and services designed to identify and address white supremacy, build anti-racist capacity, and support people of color in the faith. Some highlight of Morales’ leadership include:
  • Dismantling the Identity Based Ministries staff group established by Bill Sinkford to provide direct support to people of color and members of other marginalized groups
  • Removing funding and staff support for DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries) and other organizations serving UUs from historically marginalized groups
  • Eliminating the two-day anti-racism/anti-oppression training for newly elected UUA leaders provided at the end of General Assembly, which was the only anti-racism training required for UUA volunteer leaders
  • Terminating the JUUST Change consultancy which helped congregations increase effectiveness in anti-oppression and social justice work, including helping congregations identify leaders, develop mission and vision statements about their social justice work, set goals, and build partnerships in the larger community.
Morales’ letter and comments quoted in the UU World are consistent with his leadership. But Morales is not the first UUA President to preferentially hire white people. He’s only the most recent. There were two notable people of color hired as senior staff during the Sinkford presidency: Taquiena Boston and Peter Morales. The most notable hire during the Buehrens administration was Bill Sinkford. Please suppress the urge to notice a trend here, because I promise that for every Sinkford or Morales, there were more than a dozen white folks – usually male, usually ministers – who were the informal inside candidates hired for positions at the UUA. Some of these folks were given positions created expressly for them because they needed a job. UUA Presidents have always provided jobs for (mostly white) people they like. I do not know if Rev. Burnett was an informal inside candidate for the Regional Lead position. I am suspicious when members of the UUA Board are hired to staff positions; recruiting trustees is a violation of the Board’s policies. [EDIT: I had originally written that trustees applying for staff positions is also a violation of policy. The two trustees who applied for the Regional Lead position both applied for and were granted waivers to do so per current Board policy.]

However, I believe that we should not focus on this specific position or the hire done at this particular time, but rather on a pattern that encompasses every position and every time. For at least two decades, and despite staff group leadership from Bill Sinkford and Peter Morales, the UUA has hired only one person of color to serve as the senior staff member in a district, and has hired none to lead a region. The "right answer", the person with the “best fit” to lead the teams that serve our congregations directly isn’t rarely a person of color, it is with only one exception never a person of color. I believe this is critical: district staff are the “customer facing” staff in the UUA – the staff that live and work directly with congregations. What difference could it have made to our Association if, when your congregation asked for help, the UUA expertise had come from a minister of Asian descent? An African American lay person? A person who is directly supervised by a Latinx religious educator? How might years of rich interactions have changed the patterns of racism in your congregation, or helped equip your congregation to better serve your community? What lessons might our Association have learned from leaders who viewed our congregations and their work through a more diverse set of lenses?

If you didn’t notice that the team leader for the services your congregation receives is white, that’s normal. The UUA is drowning in a sea of whiteness, and we don’t even notice. This is an attribute of white supremacy culture.


There have been good proposals – open letters to the UUA Board posted on Facebook, including Jake Morrill's detailed post of a few days ago and today’s letter from The Reverends Patrice K. Curtis, Danielle Di Bona, Kristen L. Harper, Abhi Janamanchi, Manish Mishra-Marzetti, William G. Sinkford, and Leslie Takahashi which closed with this request to the Board:
"Our ask of you is simple, but requires vision, courage, and leadership. The Board has the ability to determine and define the Association’s ends and policies, in as much specificity as is needed. It is imperative that the Board utilize the tools at its disposal and adopt specific policies and ends that can push us towards a better and healthier embodiment of the institutional and cultural transformation that you are clearly hearing many UUs articulate that it is time for." #BuildingNewWay #25percentIncreaseBy2019 #UUA #wokenotwoke
Unitarian Universalists are rising to join Aisha Hauser’s request that the UUA board
“review the latest hiring process for antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural values; to create a plan to increase religious professionals of color by 20 percent by 2019; to commit to leaving positions open unless qualified candidates of color are part of the applicant pool; and to create a plan for evolving Finding Our Way Home to a Religious Professionals of Color Collective who can be considered for all levels of hiring.”
These appeals to the Board are a good and appropriate start, but they are not enough. The UUA Bylaws give the Board the authority to set ends and policies for the UUA, but if the President chooses to willfully disregard direction from the Board, the Board has two alternatives: ignore the problem or fire the President. For more than five decades, when critical problems have arisen between the Board and President, the ultimate result has been an increase in Presidential authority and a systemic decrease in accountability. Unitarian Universalists need to do more than simply ask the UUA Board of Trustees to do their job. We must also do ours, faithfully and forcefully.

* Step 1: Choose wisely
In only three months the UUA will elect a new President. All three candidates for President are white women; the bylaws do not allow additional nominations or write-in votes, so our next President will be white. Our first task is to choose a candidate who understands that a vote is not a mandate, and that their direction comes not once during an election, but on an ongoing basis from UU congregations and communities. We should be looking for a President who clearly demonstrates their knowledge that white supremacy lives in the UUA as well as in the KKK and who is looking forward to recruiting and leading a diverse staff not just at headquarters but in the Congregational Life group. But this is not enough. We also require a servant President who does not just promise to “work with” the Board – trust me that this is a meaningless statement -- but commits to implement the ends and policies set by the Board because our congregations determined that 51 weeks of every year, the power to set policy and direction for the UUA is exercised by the UUA Board.

* Step 2: Demand accountability 
The 52nd week is General Assembly, and for that week, the owners of the UUA, our congregations, are in town and in 2018 they should demand a report from their President that begins with words similar to these: “Last year your Board charged me to develop a plan to increase the number of active religious professionals of color serving our faith by 20% by next year. Here is a summary of the plan, and how we are progressing.” This should be followed by similar data on plans and progress – for example, plans on recruiting and hiring staff of color and non-ministerial religious professionals. We should demand a similar Presidential report in 2019, and 2020, and every other year because we should have been demanding them all along. For too many years the President’s Report to our congregations has been a dog and pony show, featuring executive travel and highlighting interesting staff work but lacking an analysis of administrative performance. We must demand annual reports that demonstrate accountability and progress toward goals from our President, our Moderator, and our Board of Trustees.

* Step 3: Risk faithfully 
I resonate strongly with suggestions that individuals who support the UUA send their contributions elsewhere: to other UU groups, or outside the UUA. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past four years, but I’m not yet ready to give up on the UUA. In this moment, I am ridiculously hopeful. Anything is possible. UUs, especially white UUs, might realize what is at stake and choose a President who will lead well and collaboratively. If we do, our new President will need resources to do the work we elect them to undertake. I also believe we must send a clear signal of our resolve, not just for others, but to remind ourselves. The UUA has disappointed me deeply, and yet I’m willing to pay it forward for two years – not forever, but #UUntil2019 **EDIT: I also fully support my colleagues of color and others who are making different choices about their relationships with the UUA. What would change if many congregations or every congregation clearly communicated that they would send UUA dues until 2019 not from obligation but as an act of faithful risk, trusting the President to be a servant leader? #UUntil2019 What would change if many religious professionals partnered with their lay leaders to discuss the work of the UUA at least twice a year after Sunday services or before a congregational board meeting? What if we talked about how we were being served other than in moments of crisis?

* Step 4: Pull the plug
What if we fail to choose wisely, or forget to demand accountability? What if there’s no progress because we let this crisis “pass” (we’ve done it before) and the President spends their time on new initiatives they think are sexy rather than the priorities set by the Board and GA (it’s happened before) and the Board decides that minimizing conflict is a better goal than actual performance (we’ve done this, too.) If this white supremacist, racist mess is the best faith we can create with our millions of dollars every year, we should just move on -- and it’s easier to start fresh than to break a new path through the woods dragging along the corpse of your last bad decision. I'm ridiculously hopeful, but only for two years. #BuildABetterWay

If you find these ideas worthy, please talk, listen, and preach about these things in your congregation: white supremacy in the UUA; racist hiring; choosing our next president wisely; demanding more of our leaders; providing the resources for our faith to do better; staying #woke to make sure that we are on the right road. Find out who your GA delegates are and how your votes are cast. Be a leader.

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